Title: Waver
Chapter: Oneshot
Type: Fanfiction
Fandom: Naruto (by Masashi Kishimoto)
Character(s): Jiraiya, Naruto, mentions of Yondaime, Kyuubi
Genre: General
Word Count: 2, 065
Notes: Something that's been written for a while. Done randomly without any specific planning – like a stream of consciousness. Possible spoilers for most recent manga chapters.
Summary: Jiraiya might really be hurt this time.

xxxxxxxxxxxxx

Waver

xxxxxxxxxxxxx

Words could be frail sometimes, like birdlike hands cutting out lace patterns. The sky could reflect red even if it remained as blue as the ocean's depths. And certainly, intended truths could turn into lies. But there were certain things a man had hope in. He tried to remember them before he hit the ground, but the only images that came into his mind were the faces of those who had left him and of those he was leaving behind. The scrap of paper in his left hand fluttered out of grasp.

In the distance, a speck of something blurry and gray was falling, like a limp rag doll torn to shreds.

"N-Naruto…"

His lids finally slid down over his eyes, the darkness like a thick, suffocating blanket.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

He had no idea how long he'd been out – whether it lasted for months, days, or mere minutes. But he awoke to the sound of ragged breathing. Instincts still shell-shocked, he lashed out with his forearm, catching whatever it was by surprise and knocking it back a few feet. The sound of displaced wood crashing prompted him to snap his neck around, surveying the decimated training area. Dust caught in the wind – wound up shooting towards the sky like some kind of smoke. He coughed and was disturbed at how wet the sound seemed.

In his peripheral vision, the wood was moving again, specks of debris rising as a blur of blond and tan with a spattering of red stood shakily on two legs. It moved closer, in and out of focus. The shhp, shhp of shoes was punctuated by his throbbing heartbeat – too slow for such a situation.

Squinting at the something that was too bright to look at properly, a few syllables bubbled out of his mouth. A simple name he hadn't murmured in so many years. The bright something twitched uncomfortably, eyes coming into focus for a split second. A little wider than he remembered but still just as blue.

"Who are you talking to?"

He started, suddenly remembering that this and that were not the same person – that past and present were as divided as night and day. This voice was higher – more gravelly. At present, it was nothing more than a trembling croak – more alarmed than he'd every heard it.

Shhp, shhp, and footsteps came closer, a set of fingertips reaching forward to ghost over his breastbone.

"Y-you're bleeding."

And at once, he remembered the scraps of paper he'd thrown onto a body of flames in the struggle for life – a violent tail swishing out to clip him and violating all his defenses. He recalled the sensation of skin ripping away from his chest and poisonous energy spreading ominously from the wound.

"Naruto," he gurgled, displeased with the weakness in his voice. He finally focused on the kid's face, relieved that there were no demonic traces in it. Those blue eyes of his were flickering back and forth, taking in the destruction bit by bit. His torn clothes were fluttering in the breeze, and his tan but bleeding arms were beginning to shake.

"What happened?" the latter part of the sentence was soft and frightened.

"You mean," Jiraiya's throat had gone even drier, "you don't remember?"

Wide eyes answered the question.

Jiraiya was struck, not for the first time, with real fear. Not for himself, but for the boy. And suddenly, he knew how much work there was to be done. His chest throbbed insistently and he pressed a large hand over it in annoyance. First things first.

"Don't just stand there like an idiot," he rasped. "Help me up."

xxxxxxxxxxxxx

The lights were low, and the inn was dank and dirty. But it was the closest thing to the training site, and it was certainly as far as Jiraiya could manage to go, even with a slip of a boy supporting his waist as he stumbled forward.

The floor beside the futon was splattered with his blood by late afternoon, despite his own meager mending skills and Naruto's valiant efforts in changing the bandages as often as possible. The boy was unusually quiet and pale, and his hands shook when he wrapped the bandages around. Jiraiya would have consoled him, but he was too tired and cranky to really care. He inwardly denied the smallest chance that he was honestly more hurt than he realized.

He slumped over at the waist, hair flopping down on the floor. Within seconds, a bratty mouth was opening and closing fervently, mere inches from his face. The sounds were indistinct.

"Shaddup," he yelled in annoyance, "and go get me some sake."

Because sake would lessen the pain. It always did.

Naruto's face froze, the white of his eyes seeming to protrude. He leaned even closer, chewing his lip in worry. That was an annoying habit. Made him look girly. He told him so. Be a man, he said. Because for Naruto to survive, he would have to be much more than that.

"What'd you say, Perverted Sennin?"

Brat's voice was much too gentle, given his characteristic exuberance. Almost made Jiraiya worry.

"I want sake, brat!" Jiraiya was certain he was outright screaming now.

Naruto put his ear closer, saying shakily, "You're mumbling. Speak up."

Jiraiya decided to stop focusing on the kid then – it was too troublesome to deal with. Instead, his thoughts drifted to another time. He'd had a grievous wound back then, complete with splintered ribs and wounded lungs. That's right. Tsunade had done a number on him, barely short of outright murdering his body. She had been so distraught about her overreaction to his infamous "hobby" that she had actually brought him flowers in the hospital. He could still remember it clearly. A sheepish Tsunade for once.

"S'your own fault and you deserved it." Blush of shame, and then quietly, "But I'm really sorry."

Feh. As sheepish as the spirited woman would ever get, discounting interaction with beloved Dan. That day, she had even gone so far as to bring him a meal while he was stuck there, not that it was easy to eat given his cracked body. And Orochimaru had hovered nearby as well, being anal-retentive as he double-checked the dosages for his pain medications. Heh – freak.

"…nin! Wake up! Pervert-Sennin!"

The voice was frantic and loud, as usual. He hated it when Naruto woke up before he did. The kid devised the most ridiculously annoying wake-up rituals.

"Jiraiya!"

Huh. It was almost a sob.

"Wake up now, dammit!"

Jiraiya ignored him. He wasn't going to sacrifice his precious sleep just because the brat wanted to get an early start on training.

xxxxxxxxxxxxx

Dreams were a rarity, but when they did come, he hated them. Unlike some, he had no control over them, and they seemed to call out every pain and insecurity that had ever existed in him. The faces of teachers and teammates and students looked at him, expressions molding and ever-changing. Every once in a while, something inhuman and ferocious appeared, like a maelstrom. And then there was red firelight and he was waking up too quickly again.

Sploosh.

And a waterfall cascaded down his hair, plastering white spikes to his face. The laughter was obnoxious, but the voice didn't belong to Naruto this time.

"Jiraiya-sensei, you drank too much again! Fwahaha! Serves you right!"

A raspberry was blown with glee. Jiraiya sat up and rubbed his head, pushing back sopping wet bangs as he watched his student dance around him like some kind of savage.

"Tch. What are you doing, you stupid brat?" he grumbled, wringing some of the water out of his hair.

"It's time to train, Jiraya-sensei," the child said, head bobbing up and down.

"Where are your teammates?" Jiraiya muttered, glancing to the side at the time.

"They're dead."

He had warped into the man that was Yondaime. Suddenly, as tends to happen in dreams. He was tall and refined in his Hokage robes, and his laughing eyes had turned to war-ravaged pearls of reality. Jiraiya preferred the child to the man.

"Of course they're dead," Jiraiya sighed.

"We let them down," Yondaime said seriously, allowing Jiraiya to see the pain he usually hid so well. "And if you die, you're going to let Naruto down, too."

Defensive, Jiraiya snarled, "You let him down first!"

He couldn't really help it. He hated it when his own students lectured him. Yondaime was silent for a moment, eyes trained on the floor that had suddenly turned to fire.

"I know," he said. "But I think he'd understand."

Jiraiya had dreamt this part of the dream before – of Yondaime being swallowed up by the flames like some inhuman, unreachable god. The difference, this time, was that the flames stretched forward to lick his own body, and if he squinted, he could see claws inside the blurry heat.

And just like that, he awoke.

xxxxxxxxxxxxx

Naruto was asleep on his chest, drooling like the little brat he was. He winced. Stupid, stupid, stupid kid. With more effort than was usually required, he shoved him off. He sat up cautiously and slowly rolled his shoulders around, basking in the temporary relief he had been granted on part of some luck that could have only come from the gods above. Why was it hurting less, he wondered, pressing his fingers to the wound. Why…?

Gama-chan, Naruto's beloved and ridiculous-looking frog purse, lay a few feet away from his futon, next to an unfamiliar medical box. The last time he had seen Gama-chan, which was yesterday when they had arrived, the purse had been full to the brim – a result of Naruto's whimsical participation in a raffle awhile back. Now, the purse was so flat that he knew it had to be empty.

Turning away from the deflated bag, he scanned his torso. Clean bandages again. The floor was cleaned up, too. No more blood.

He turned and grabbed Naruto, stuffing the kid back into his own futon before scourging around in the unfamiliar medical box. Stupid kid, he thought. He had probably hired someone, but all the money in the world wouldn't buy a cure to the poisonous effect the Kyuubi chakra was having. The pain might be eased, but the damage was going to take a while to heal. He grabbed some medicine he vaguely recalled using when he had broken his ribs and gulped it down. Wiping the sweat from his brow, he collapsed into his futon once more.

Still, he thought, it was pretty good of the boy to find help in this god-forsaken town. A bit dangerous, too, he had to admit. He had never been prone to worrying about the kid before, as in the event that Akatsuki members arrived, he would be there to do something about it. However, being injured really put a damper on that line of reasoning. Better tell the kid to stay close tomorrow, he noted.

He lay in the silence for long moments, staring at the ceiling with a frown. He rubbed his wound rhythmically. It was starting to hurt again; he could imagine the hiss of acid-like power sinking into his skin.

This was a definite setback to his plans. Dream-Yondaime was right about his past students. He had let them down. But he couldn't bring them back now, no matter how much he wished it. He had to focus on his current student, the one with a control challenge more daunting than any human being alive had to face. There was also the fact that he actually cared about the kid – more than he was willing to admit anyway. Jiraiya wasn't so good at being nurturing or anything. His fondness emerged in gruff words and outlandish actions. It was clumsy, but he still cared. So, it manifested itself in the desire to protect the boy.

And he knew that the only way to truly protect someone was to teach them to be self-reliant. In Naruto's case, it would be more difficult – as he and Kyuubi were becoming more connected everyday, the lines of boy and demon becoming more blurred than Jiraiya liked to acknowledge. Naruto might not have the best of odds, but he was sure as Hell going to try. There was a lot of work to be done. Naruto had a lot of enemies: Akatsuki maniacs, a once-upon-a-time best friend, and, of course, the Kyuubi itself.

If Naruto had to go down, he'd go down kicking up a storm.

END.

xxxxxxxxxxxxx